As Pennsylvania’s casinos prepare to re-open once lockdown eases, poker is being left out in the cold. At least for now.
It’s as integral to live poker as squeaky sneakers are to a basketball game: that clack-clack of chips as players toy with the stack in front of them while considering their next move. And it’s why PA poker players must wait a while longer for their favorite game, even after their local casino reopens its doors.
When the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board published its Casino Reopening Protocols ahead of the state’s 12 casinos resuming business, poker was the notable absence amid the list of coronavirus precautions.
“Poker rooms are not authorized to operate due to players handling cards and chips,” the Protocols state. Those features may not be unique to poker but the Board feels they are less extensive in other casino table games.
“The operation of poker games involves multiple players sharing chips between them?and not just between them and the dealer as in regular table games,” said Doug Harbach, the Board’s Communications Director. “The needed proximity of players is also a concern. We would expect that after casinos reopen the other parts of their gaming operations, poker rooms will follow soon thereafter.”
He added that the Protocols reflect input from the casinos in their preliminary safety plan submissions.
Even if the wide circulation of chips had not caused concern, the likelihood of the number of players per table being restricted may have hampered poker’s return to the state’s casinos.
Of those table games that are permitted, the Protocols state that they “…shall be operated in a manner to maintain increased distance between players at each table”.
Had poker been allowed to resume immediately, this stipulation could have led to the maximum number of players at a poker table being reduced from the customary nine down to four, resulting in what is known in the game as ‘short-handed poker’. The rules remain the same but strategically, it is a very different beast from nine-person or ‘full ring’ games, and there are signs that players accustomed to a full table would be reluctant to make the switch, even temporarily.
Certainly, that was the prevailing mood among posters on one of poker’s principal online forums, and it is echoed in Las Vegas. Two Vegas operators – Wynn Resorts and Station Casinos have shelved plans to offer poker upon reopening their casinos because they feel that short-handed poker (which also means less rake for the house) was nonviable.
When Does Your Favorite PA Casino Reopen?
Pennsylvanian casinos closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus. They are free to open once the county in which they stand enters the Green Phase of the state’s reopening process.
Details of those counties that have or are about to go green, as on June 1, can be found here.
What The Protocols Mean for Pennsylvania Casino Gamblers
Visitors to a casino are required to wear a mask and, if subject to an identification check, may be required to lower the mask briefly to verify their identity with government-issued identification cards.
Patrons are discouraged from wearing hats in the casino. Should they do so, they will be required to remove the hat or lower the mask temporarily while at the casino entrance and look toward a security camera for facial identification.
The casinos are required to place social distancing reminders at each entrance, as well as floor markings in all indoor and outdoor areas in which patrons may form lines for entry or services, to encourage appropriate spacing.
Casinos must ensure that their properties are not so crowded as to prevent adherence to social distancing guidelines, and their staff stationed at the entrances are to be trained to recognize indicators in someone who may be ill.
Sanitizer stations will be provided at each entrance as well as throughout the casino.
All casino employees shall receive COVID-19 training. They will wear masks and are allowed to wear translucent
gloves while performing their duties.
What To Expect If You Play Slots
Players will find that chairs which normally accompany certain machines have been removed and plexiglass barriers have been erected between machines.
Some slot machines will be disabled to create a suitable distance between those machines still in play. Touch surfaces will be frequently disinfected when not in use and sanitizing wipes will be available for players to clean a machine before play.
How Are Table Games Affected By The Protocols?
Brace yourselves for a more sedate craps table than usual. Appropriate distances between players are to be maintained at all table games and spectators too close to the action will be discouraged.
High touch points at a table, such as gaming equipment and chairs, will be frequently sanitized, and casino personnel managing the game will regularly sanitize card shoes, dice, and other equipment. The casinos are to arrange for chips to be sanitized daily.
Casinos may adopt alternative procedures limiting players in touching chips and cards and may install clear plexiglass barriers between players and the dealer, upon notice to the Bureau of Casino Compliance.
Elsewhere In The Casino
Similar measures concerning social distancing, barriers, and regular sanitizing will also apply to a casino’s sportsbook, cage, and Players’ Club desk. Valet services, like poker, are on hold for now.
What About Casino Staff?
They are also covered by the Protocols. Some employees will be adding a dramatic job title to their resumes, now that there is an obligation for each casino to appoint a ‘Pandemic Safety Officer’.
Items in that person’s To-Do tray will include the installation of social distancing markings in areas where staff congregate and signage at each employee entrance, displaying a checklist of coronavirus symptoms and instructing employees experiencing any symptoms to stay home.
Any employees who believe they may have contracted COVID-19 must report it to the Pandemic Safety Officer, who must in turn report any confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 to the Board?s Director of Casino Compliance and state and local health authorities.
Employees may be required to undergo a temperature check at each employee entrance.
Steps must be taken to avoid employees gathering in back-of-house areas and enhanced cleaning protocols will be used, with all employees being encouraged to wash their hands frequently, particularly those whose jobs entail a high degree of public contact.